BOZEMAN — During an interview at the Big Sky Kickoff in July in Spokane, Washington, first-year Sacramento State football coach Troy Taylor talked about what it would take to turn the struggling Hornets around.
“It’s about each day,” Taylor said. “I know that sounds trite in coach-talk, but anybody who’s really good at anything, they’re in that moment and they’re enjoying it.
“Are we going to be a great program? Are we going to win championships? Absolutely. I don’t know when that’s going to happen, but it will happen.”
It happened much faster than perhaps Taylor even thought.
With a 27-17 home victory Saturday against rival UC Davis, Sacramento State clinched a share of its first Big Sky Conference championship since joining the league in 1996. The Hornets will also make their first FCS postseason appearance Dec. 7 when they host the winner of a first-round game between Furman and Austin Peay.
Sacramento State will be the No. 4 seed for the postseason and has a chance to host multiple playoff games. There is the potential for the Hornets to host fifth-seeded Montana State in the quarterfinal round.
The Hornets finished the regular season with a 9-3 overall record and went 7-1 in the Big Sky. They defeated the likes of traditional powers Montana, Montana State and Eastern Washington to become the surprise team of the league.
Their only conference loss was to Weber State, which also went 7-1 in the Big Sky to share the crown with Sacramento State (the Wildcats earned an automatic bid to the postseason).
It was a dramatic turnaround: Sacramento State went winless in the Big Sky last season before Taylor was hired to resurrect the program following stints as the offensive coordinator at both Utah and Eastern Washington in the preceding years.
“I'm happiest for our seniors,” Taylor said in a Sacramento State release. “When you come in and take over a program, sometimes those guys don't buy in. (Our seniors) never blinked, they were awesome, so I'm really happy they are champions."
Contending for — and winning — Big Sky championships is nothing new to Weber State. The Wildcats’ 38-10 home victory over Idaho State on Saturday sewed up a share of their third straight league title.
As a result, Weber State (9-3) got the No. 3 seed for the upcoming playoffs, the highest seed of any of the four Big Sky teams in the field.
The Wildcats will host a second-round game Dec. 7 against the winner of a first-round game between triple-option teams Kennesaw State and Wofford.
Weber State’s only loss in the regular season was a 35-16 defeat on the road to Montana.
There is anticipation for a potential rematch between the Wildcats and the sixth-seeded Grizzlies in the quarterfinal round, a game that would be held at Stewart Stadium in Ogden, Utah. But Weber State coach Jay Hill said his team isn’t looking that far ahead.
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“At this stage you better be mature about the situation because we’re going to get a really, really good team in here and you’ve got to take care of business one week at a time,” Hill said during an interview posted to Twitter.
“If you look forward to a potential Montana matchup — or if they’re looking forward to that matchup with us — someone’s going to get beat. It’s just not the way to handle business. If it happens, great. But we’ve got to take care of business the first game.”
Changes at the top
Cal Poly coach Tim Walsh on Monday announced his retirement after 11 years leading the Mustangs.
Walsh went 59-66 at Cal Poly. He also spent 14 seasons as the head coach at Portland State (1993-2006) and four others at Sonoma State (1989-92).
Walsh compiled a 176-148 in 29 years as a college head coach.
A national search for Cal Poly's next coach is under way, according to a school-issued press release.
Also, after nine seasons as head coach, Earnest Collins has been let go at Northern Colorado. Athletic director Darren Dunn announced the decision on Sunday.
Collins had a 28-72 record at UNC, but forged the program’s first two winning seasons as a member of Division I in 2015 and 2016.
It was announced in a UNC press release that the university has retained the firm College Sports Solutions to assist with a national search for the Bears’ next coach.
The final STATS FCS Top 25 poll of the regular season was released Monday, and all four ranked Big Sky teams remained in the top seven though there was some shuffling.
Sacramento State moved up one spot to No. 3 while Weber State jumped ahead two spots to No. 4. Montana State (9-3, 6-2 Big Sky) slid up three spots to No. 5 following its 48-14 win over Montana last week.
The Grizzlies (9-3, 6-2) dipped four spots to No. 7.
Around the league
Idaho QB Mason Petrino was named Big Sky player of the week following a 60-53 overtime win over Northern Arizona. Petrino threw for 498 yards and had 563 yards of total offense to also claim STATS national playoff the week honors. … The defensive player of the week nod went to Cal Poly DB Kevin Howell, who had two interceptions (one that went for a late TD) in the Mustangs’ 28-21 win over UNC. … UC Davis P Daniel Whelan was named the special teams player of the week after pinning four punts inside the 10-yard line against Sacramento State.